There was an unexpected development in the White House yesterday, when Donald Trump tried to express support for the American intelligence professionals he insulted on the international stage the day before. “Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies – I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies,” the president said.
And as the sentence ended, the lights in the Roosevelt Room went out, briefly leaving everyone there in the dark.
As metaphors go, this was a little over the top, but it was nevertheless important. Because while the Republican president may claim to have “a full faith in our intelligence agencies,” Trump’s actions have created a dynamic in which our intelligence agencies don’t have full faith in him. The New York Times reported yesterday:
Few other currently serving intelligence officials were willing to speak publicly about Mr. Trump’s remarks — intelligence officials are, after all, expected to work for any president no matter their politics and, in any case, most work in offices where they cannot easily speak with reporters or any outsiders. Those that would talk spoke only on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their careers. But all were unanimous in saying that they and their colleagues were aghast at how Mr. Trump had handled himself with Mr. Putin.
One official summed up what appeared to be the consensus view, saying that it was clear whose side Mr. Trump was on, and “it isn’t ours.”
Axios spoke to one of Trump’s own former National Security Council officials who described the situation as “a total [effing] disgrace,” adding, “The president has lost his mind.”
The road that brought us to this point is long. As regular readers may recall, Candidate Trump was rather explicit in saying he wasn’t prepared to trust information he receives from American intelligence officials. He maintained this posture for months, at times even mocking agencies.
At one point, the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, described Trump’s criticisms of the intelligence community as “an insanely dangerous antic that materially undermines American security.” Michael Hayden, a former director of the NSA and CIA, wrote a related piece soon after, raising practical concerns about the deteriorating relationship between Trump and U.S. intelligence professionals.
That was in December 2016 – the month before Trump even took office.
Nineteen months later, the president stood on foreign soil and suggested he has greater confidence in Vladimir Putin’s denials than the judgment of American intelligence agencies.
No good can come of this.